Do You Speak English? Around the World With the Mother Tongue

To-may-to or To-mahto ?
To-may-to or To-mahto ? | Source

American vs. English

Recently, I came across an interesting hub on the differences between American and English spelling and usage. I had a lot of fun reading it and thinking of as many differences as I could from an American perspective. You know the stuff, Their cars have bonnets, ours have hoods. They get a flat tyre as opposed to tire.(actually,I think they get a puncture not a flat,but never mind) They park their cars in a car park while we leave ours in the parking lot. We go to the john. They use the loo. Our cookies are their biscuits, while their rubbers are our erasers. I don’t know what the English call condoms(never had the need to know) but I did discover that someone who offers to” knock you up in the morning” only means they will tap on your bedroom door to make sure you are awake,

Then there are the food words. Would you want to eat something called “ Toad in the Hole” or “Bangers and Mash” or ( my all time personal favorite)”Spotted Dick”? I’m here to report they are all very tasty. There are American equivalents, of course. We've got “Shoofly Pie”,Chicken Fried Steak” and “Mississippi Mud Pie” to tempt the taste buds. To add to the confusion, what they call crisps we call potato chips and when we ask for chips in England we will get what we know at home in America as French fries. It all makes for some interesting trans Atlantic dining experiences.

They find it hysterical that we call the toilet the bathroom and they really double over in laughter when we ask for the restroom. Coy American ladies in England who ask for the "little girl's room" or the "powder room" will be met with blank stares. On the other hand, the English girl in America who asks where she can "spend a penny" is also in for a hard time. A fag is a cigarette in the UK, which can lead to endless complications for visiting Brits looking for a smoke in America. Americans on the other hand, are endlessly confused by English signs posted over doorways saying " Way Out. ". What is so way out about a door we wonder? We Americans walk on the sidewalk not the pavement. Pavement in America is the actual cement the sidewalk is made of. It's amazing that we ever manage to understand one another and lots of fun comparing the linguistic pitfalls.

In Britain a fag is a cigarette
In Britain a fag is a cigarette | Source

Whose Language Is It?

The real beauty of the English language is its amazing flexibility. From old Anglo-Saxon through the Vikings and Norman French, the hsitory of the English language is found in the words and usages it absorbed. While English is no longer a highly inflected language having lost its cases, so to speak, it has more words than almost any language on the planet. The shades of meaning between words and the English language use of prepositional phrases as a substitute for grammatical cases, make it hard for non-native speakers to find the " mot juste". For example, there is a subtle difference between a job, a profession and a trade but all refer to work. Then there is the matter of grammatical exceptions. English has more of them than you can " shake a stick at" I mean, if we have one mouse and two mice, why don't we have one house and two hice, or one blouse and two blice? It makes no sense at all. In English a cloth could be wound ( past tense of wind) around a wound ( a noun meaning an injury) and you just have to know from the meaning of the sentence that the same word is used as both a noun and a verb with completely different meanings.

From the defeat of the Spanish Armada under Elizabeth I to the end of World War II, the sun never set on the British Empire. One of the consequences was the addition of a vast new vocabulary of foreign words into the English language as well as the start of dominence of the mother tonguw in such far flung places as India and Africa. The emergence of the United States and a Major world power after WWII added to the power of English and the adoption of English as the universal language of the Internet finished the job. Today, while English lags behind both Mandarin and Spanish in number or native speakers, it is clearly the most useful and universally studied and used language in the world.

It goes without saying that England sets the linguistic standard world-wide-- but isn’t it amazing how many different kinds of English speakers there are? I wonder at how the language has changed and evolved over a relatively short period of time, adapting comfortably to different climates and cultures?

I wish I knew more about variations in usage in Australia, Ireland, Canada, India and wherever else the sun never used to set on the British Empire. The empire may be gone, but the language is its lasting legacy—less elegant than French, less beautiful than Italian, less precise than German but nevertheless the new Latin—a flexible, mutable language that one can get by on anywhere in the world and one that is still mutating and changing -- shaped by the new users from all over the world who make it what it is and will become.

Amy Walker does English in 21 different accents.

Electronics for Those Lost in Translation

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Comments 42 comments

pgrundy 8 years ago

Great hub--I wonder how hard it is for Britains to understand various dialects here in the US? I remember being in London as a student in my 20s and asking direction from this very distinguished looking elderly gentleman. I had no idea what he said, not a clue. But I did thank him.

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

LOL--hope you eventually found your way. I see a great Saturday Night Live skit in a conversation between a highland Scot and a Texan:-)

Iðunn 8 years ago

dratz, I miss all the good stuff by burying myself in depressing indies. :mad:

I have to say I have the greatest respect for people who speak english as a second language and/or who have multiple languages. I get interested in various languages from time to time, but rarely keep to task. I have some Spanish spoken and considerably more readability in it, and I can read and write some Irish, although I can't pronouce it or understand it spoken since I learned it in print :p

Guess which one is the most useful? hehe

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Erin go bragh???

Iðunn 8 years ago

heehee.  it's a nifty language, but you want to talk about zero subtlety, this one is it.  it says what it means.  for example, the phrase "sorting you out" in ireland can mean straightening something up, or it can have a sexual innuendo.  there is no irish equivalent for that phrase.  in irish, references to sex are direct, no other phrase that has varying connotations.

emotions are strange too, in gaeilge.  for example, emotions act on people rather than the other way around.  an emotion is on you, at you or under you.  it's quite intriguing really.  I have pondered the correlation between the grammar of the language itself and the general celtic passion for love and life.

I think partly why I fell in love with it is because it's almost totally useless (like me).  Even the Irish don't speak it outside a few gaelteacht (irish speaking areas) like the west. 

It's also quite difficult, yet another thing that appeals directly to me.  robie, Irish as a language is a frozen sparrow to me.  If I ever get close enough to an area that has classes in it so I can hear it spoken, I'm taking it back up.  I :heart: this language.

I have a hub on it up somewhere in there.  You should go read the grammar rulz.  :O

livelonger profile image

livelonger 8 years ago from San Francisco

I taught English for 2 years in Poland, and was surprised that there are some grammatical differences as well (mostly with tenses; Americans prefer past tense while Brits prefer present perfect). I had to eat crow a couple of times when I corrected my students and found out later that what they said was actually correct (British) English (like "going to hospital", etc.)

Iðunn 8 years ago

yeah, also the plural in Ireland and England instead of the singular here. like 'were' instead of 'are' for a group verb.

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Guys--very interesting thread --yeah livelonger(gosh I love that name) The Brits love the present perfect--endlessly confusing to us poor yanks-- but did you learn any Polish? I hear it's a very difficult language? and Iðunn --I had an Icelandic period when I went to Iceland regularly. Your Irish stu;dy reminds me of my run ins with Icelandic. It is actually Old Norse--a very ancient tongue like Irish. I always called it a great grandfather to English. I find it very beautiful, but it has a very complicated and cumbersome grammar--you can count to four in the masculine, feminine and neuter, for example. But I agree that a language tells you a lot about a people. I find it fascinating.

SirDent 8 years ago

Very interesting hub and quite humorous also. Or is it humourous?

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hope it's humerous--I meant it to be:-)

Zsuzsy Bee profile image

Zsuzsy Bee 8 years ago from Ontario/Canada

Fun Hub! I loved it.

regards Zsuzsy

Abhinaya 8 years ago

Well you need to visit India.When we move from one state to another it is as if landing on foreign soil.Every state has its own mother tongue.But still people manage it.I relative of mine went to the US without knowing English and managed everything by just saying 'yes' and 'no' till she reached her son's home there.HaHa! Great hub.

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks Zsuzsy

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Wish I could visit India--would love to. Hope your relative didn't sign up for anything she didn't want with her yes and no activity LOL. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Iðunn 8 years ago

just popping in for a "dia duit ar maidin" (good morning) to you. ya, I used morning on purpose. I tend to sleep in. :p

Sydney SuGaR 8 years ago

I live in England and am British but married an American and lived there for 18 years. Our Jelly is what the Americans call Jello. Our Jam, you call Jelly. You say 'guy', we say 'mate'. We say 'biscuit', you say 'cookie' (as you mentioned) however, when you say 'biscuit' we think you mean 'scone'. We say 'windscreen' wipers and you say 'windshield' wipers. Oh and by the way? In England we call a condom a 'Johnny', I don't the bloody hell know why. Also, we say 'arse' and you say 'ass'. I could go on...

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

delightful additions to the list-- I could listen to you go on and on. Don't know why but I find the differences really fascinating.

Rod Beglerf profile image

Rod Beglerf 8 years ago from Moving across Europe

As a non native english speaker, the kind of details you mention here are way beyond my knowledge of english. I met once with an english couple in Australia (don't ask) who said I was speaking a good "european".

And the fact is that when I take part in european meetings where everyone speaks english, the harder person to understand are the Englishmen. I should may be post a hub about the way persons from various european country speak english... mmmm

When I studied in a Cambrige course, we had to learn all the silly differences between UK and US english, like centre vs. center, color vs. colour, and all the "-sation" vs. "-zation" things.

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

You said:". I should may be post a hub about the way persons from various european country speak english... mmmm"

yes, that would be interesting yes! and thanks for the comment.

topstuff profile image

topstuff 8 years ago

Well Americans are the slayers of English.I donot know why they distort the words.What gonna, gotta, kinda and muchelse.British english has a standard value and good

accent.Donot mind.

robie2 profile image

robie2 8 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

HI Top Stuff, "gotta say,right U R":-) Thanks for stopping by.

dafla 8 years ago

Too funny! I'm watching "As Time Goes By", the BBC series, on DVD and I love listening to the differences in the language. My favorite English saying is "spot on". I often wonder where some sayings come from, though, like "potty" meaning crazy or eccentric. What does a potty have to do with it?

RGraf profile image

RGraf 7 years ago from Wisconsin

Great hub! It is hilarious. You are so right that it is a wonder that we understand each other :)

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Guys-- glad you found this one and enjoyed it. I'd almost forgotten about it myself, I wrote it so long ago. Thanks for the visit:-)

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

" I don’t know what the English call condoms(never had the need to know)"


"They find it hysterical that we call the toilet the bathroom and they really double over in laughter when we ask for the restroom."

My Dad loves that - he always says, "have a nice rest / bath" or offers a towel.

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Londongirl and thanks for stopping by and reading-- I guess the condom thing came up because you guys call erasors "rubbers" and to us that's another word for condom LOL

The differences really are pretty amusing and rather fun I think. Wasn't it Winston Churchill who said " America and Britain are two nations separated by a common language"?

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

Yes, rubbers are things you use to correct pencil errors, nothing more adult than that (-:

I think that quote has been attributed to several people, incl. Dylan Thomas, "two nations divided by a common language"

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hmmmm whereas Stateside, rubbers are something that keep you from getting "knocked up" as well as what you wear over your shoes in the rain but never do they appear on the end of a pencil.... I guess Dylan or Winston or whoever said it was right eh? Thanks for the return visit, LondonGirl. Always nice to see you:-)

Sufidreamer profile image

Sufidreamer 7 years ago from Sparti, Greece

Interesting Hub.

I had a Texan friend, in the UK, who could not understand why we laughed at him when he talked about his 'Fanny Bag.' In the UK, we call them 'Bum Bags' - the fanny is a completely different part of the female anatomy. The term is also used as a mild insult.

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Ahhh yes sufi-- I didn't know about the British usage of "fanny" when I wrote this hub ages ago but a few Brits set me straight--Bum bag it is when I get to the UK.

One question though-- what about the girl's name Fanny. Is that still used in England???? It's a very old fashioned name but I have heard it now and then here in the States. I suppose any girl named Fanny would be in for a rough time on your side of the pond. LOL

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

not for a long time. My great-great-grandmother, about whom I wrote a hub (she was on the Lusitania when it sank) was called Fannie, but no-one is today, for obvious reasons.

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thanks, LondonGirl-- it figures but I'm going to go right over and read your hub about your g.g.grannie Fanny and you are welcome to post a link to it here. I'm sure others would like to read it too.

American boys are sometimes called Randy( short for Randolph) which must sound pretty funny in the UK. Imagine if Fanny and Randy got married LOL.

LondonGirl profile image

LondonGirl 7 years ago from London

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

wonderful moving personal account. I loved your hub London Girl. Thanks for posting the link here:-)

Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 7 years ago from Stepping past clutter

robie2, how much I have missed. I love the hub and also read all the comments, which fascinated me.

I have to laugh when someone claims Americans have bastardized the English language. We Americans are the brunt of everyone's anger these days and it seems to hit us on all levels, which makes me sad. The American people have such huge hearts after all :). Lately I have read venomous comments from Chinese people in particular. Stereotyping runs deep in the human psyche, I think.

I have discovered here both LondonGirl and also Iounn, (though my computer does not give me the correct o). I learned so much from their comments and thoroughly enjoyed your hub as well- it is timeless, haha. Thanks.

BTW, did you ever write that "hub about the way persons from various european country speak english"? I will have to look. It sounds like another winner.

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

My goodness, storyteller, you found this old chestnut-- one of my early hubs and thank you for reading and commenting.

As for anti Americanism< shrugs shoulders> Don't take it personally. Everyone from everywhere has an uncle or ancestor who went off to America and who came home saying he made it big-- whether he did or not...... there is a kind of noteriety about us....I always find it funny that all those kids screaming death to America and burning flags in front of the Enmbassy would probably take a full scholorship to an American University in a minute-- so don't feel victimized..... we have it pretty good here, even with a recession.

Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Hi, robie, I know this is one of your old ones, but I found it really funny. I am still trying to figure out what your 'biscuit' is? you call them cookies. I like the 'weaners'? I think I got that right, we call them sausages. I have a funny story about my friend who went to America, she was so English, she forgot where she was. She was in a nightclub, and asked this man, in all innocence, can I have a fag please?!!! he nearly died of shock! hee hee she realised afterwards, what the difference was! I think because we watch a lot of American TV, we do tend to understand American language more these days. Oh, and condom is just a condom! rubbers for pencils are an old word and we now say erasers. Thanks I love these American-English hubs, they are great. And as Story, above, said, people might hate the 'yanks' but the majority of us Brits love 'em!' so anybody else can get 'stuffed' (go jump!) lol thanks nell

robie2 profile image

robie2 6 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Hi Nell-- I'm so glad you stopped by and glad you liked this one. I love the differences between American and British usage too as well as funny local dialects and expressions on both sides of the pond. Must say I watch BBC news and various BBC TV programs routinely, but never quite get it right in terms of understanding English slang-- oh well< shrugs> I have my problems in Texas too:-)

Sondra_Roberts profile image

Sondra_Roberts 6 years ago

What that saying ,two countries devided by a common language, Sometimes I wonder, how far they will grow apart

zi.ripon profile image

zi.ripon 5 years ago from Dhaka,Bangladesh

I like it

robie2 profile image

robie2 5 years ago from Central New Jersey Author

Thank you, zi. ripon-- and I like that you like it:-)

CuJoYYC 20 months ago

All good except Toronto was more like a subtle version of a Maritime accent with a dash of stage Irish although the attitude displayed when interrupted was very Toronto. Most Canadian pronunciation fits within the bookends of your LA and Seattle accents. Central Canadians employ slightly crisper and sharper vowels while western Canadians tend to employ slightly longer and softer vowels, though nowhere near a souther US drawl.

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